Historically, customer service was delivered over the phone or in person. Customers didn’t have many choices, and switching to competitors was cumbersome. Today, these methods are but two of the many possible touch points of entry for any given interaction. With all the options the Internet brings to us and our customers (both current and potential), competition is literally a click away.
However, I want to report that online customer service is not good–to put it mildly. In fact, some people say it stinks. Why? Because the web is but one dimension. It doesn’t have the human response — the necessary back and forth live communication–that is so critical.
Twenty five years from now your customers will not have metamorphosed. They will still be human beings, and will still be driven by desires and needs. Virtual environments do not create virtual customers. Except for the simplest transactions, customers still need to be connected with and nurtured by a live person. As an example, Amazon.com has learned this. They employ hundreds of trained personnel using phone lines to help customers with questions that cannot be dealt with online.
In today’s competitive marketplace there is little difference between products and services. What makes the difference– what distinguishes one company from another– is its relationship with the customer.
Who has the awesome responsibility for representing your company, your industry in general? Every person who interacts with a customer. In that moment of truth, the customer or potential customer makes a decision as to whether this will be a good or bad transaction, and whether they are wasting their (and your) time. That moment of truth is where it all happens. It doesn’t matter if it’s the receptionist or the CEO.
However, being great on the telephone or face to face doesn’t necessarily translate into the written word, whether it’s e-mail, faxback, or text-chat. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has said in the past, one out of six Americans are functionally illiterate. (New York Times, August 11, 1999). The sad news is I don’t think this statistic has changed much.
What can you do about this? Hire for attitude, train for aptitude. For instance, train for language skills, basic or advanced. Train for communication and listening skills, rapport building, empathetic responsiveness, conflict resolution, anger diffusion, and other soft skills. Perceive training as an ongoing process, not an event. Remember that technology supports people, it doesn’t replace them.
One of the most powerful documents in the world, the U.S. Constitution, begins with “We, the people...” Yes, ‘we the people’ make the difference.
John Naisbitt said in Megatrends: The more high tech the world becomes, the more people crave high touch service.
Rosanne D’Ausilio, PhD
Customer Service Expert